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Category: Marathon

Chronos vs Kairos

Chronos and Kairos are the two Greek gods of time. Everyone’s heard of Chronos, but they might be unaware of Kairos.  Chronos represents clock time, so hours, minutes, and seconds. Kairos is the god of the “critical,” or “opportune” time.  Kairos is about those fleeting moments in which an opportunity must be seized. He is the critical time in which decisions have far-reaching consequences, moments that can change the course of our lives in an instant.

Chronos was a road runner, Kairos was a trail runner.

Chronos and Kairos represent two distinct ways in which we experience time. If you’ve lost track of chronological time, you’ve encountered Kairos. He is present in the “flow” state, when you experience a deep sense of concentration. He is the sensation you get when time seems distorted. You have moments of Kairos-type time as a child when you become engrossed in play, but as we age, we often lose touch with this as we become entrenched in our routines, operating like clockwork. We forget how to play, yet it’s a critical aspect of happiness. Kairos is found in activities that ignite meaning and passion. I didn’t think I understood him until I sat down and really thought about time. I’ve always been aware of the social construct of time as I glance at my wristwatch, which tells me the hour, minute, and second. My early running career was focused almost exclusively on Chronos—always watching the clock and trying to beat my previous times.

While I didn’t experience a mid-life crisis, I would say that I began to think differently about my relationship with time as I approached 40, and I’ll be 43 in a few days. I started to evaluate where I was investing my time, how much I had left, and how it should be spent.

Trail runners vs Road Runners

Racing now is about Kairos—the flow state. I want to lose the sense of Chronos, where hours seem to pass like minutes during an ultra race. That’s a significant reason why I enjoy ultras. To me, it’s play; it’s like being a kid again when the only purpose was play itself. You feel this odd sense of connection while moving through nature. Chronos fades away, and Kairos takes the stage. Ultras tend to be less about your finishing time and more about accomplishing what seems impossible.

The pull to do what’s required vs what’s exciting and new.

Kairos is omnipresent in nature, often found in the novelty of experiences. He could be your newfound friend whom you might meet on a trail you’ve run a hundred times, if only you greet a random stranger. He resides in the breathtaking vistas and landscapes of many ultramarathons, in parks, and along trails in remote locations. It’s not that Chronos isn’t there—because if you’re racing against cutoffs in an ultra, you’re certainly aware of him—but he’s not the star of the show; Kairos is.

I’ll never say, “I don’t have time,” or “I’m too busy.” Instead, I force myself to say, “It’s just not that important to me.” For the things that matter in life, I make it a point to clear my schedule and create time. Recognizing that difference is crucial.

Chronos the Road vs Kairos the Trail

Recognizing the path of Kairos is a deeply personal process. It’s about being attuned to the moments that bring you a sense of joy, fulfillment, and purpose—those instances that make you feel alive and connected to something greater than the daily grind. Here are a few signs and considerations that might indicate you’re on the path of Kairos:

  1. Joy and Passion: When activities or opportunities excite you and ignite a passion within, they’re likely aligned with Kairos. This joy can be a guiding light toward more meaningful experiences.
  2. Flow State: If you find yourself in a state of flow, where time seems to stand still or pass without your notice because you’re so immersed in what you’re doing, you’re experiencing Kairos.
  3. Growth and Challenge: Kairos often lies just beyond your comfort zone. If a path challenges you and promotes growth, it might be the path of Kairos calling you to step forward.
  4. Authenticity: When you’re true to yourself and your values, you’re more likely to encounter Kairos. This means making decisions based on what genuinely matters to you, not what others think should matter.
  5. Mindfulness and Presence: Being fully present in the moment allows you to recognize and seize Kairos opportunities. Mindfulness helps you appreciate the richness of your experiences.
  6. Reflection: Regularly reflecting on your life, your goals, and your happiness can help you identify where Kairos might be found. It’s about understanding what brings you a sense of purpose and making choices that align with that.

I may seem like I hate road running, but I don’t. It’s where I got my start. Don’t take offense if you love the road. I just prefer the deeper sense of adventure found in nature as opposed to the typical big-city marathon or road race. I’m not sure what differentiates most big-city marathons; if you’ve run in one city, they all start to feel the same, but perhaps that’s a closed-minded view. Whatever you choose, be it road or trail, enjoy your journey and take the road less traveled. Be open to new opportunities wherever they may present themselves before it’s too late. Your weekends and vacations are critical because they offer the rare chance to encounter Kairos, the god of meaningful time. Don’t let it slip through your fingers and realize you’ve wasted your life on trivial things. Plan that trip, sign up for that faraway race, and take on that ultra. Do it before it’s too late and time has run its course.

Time has run out…

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Philadelphia Trail Marathon – Running Your Own Race

Three weeks after my first 100-miler of the season, I had to switch focus to the Philadelphia Trail Marathon. Recovery was a struggle. Sickness had swept through the house, and I couldn’t seem to shake a cold for days following the Rabid Raccoon 100. It might also have been due to my body being run down from battling the “mud monster” that was that 100-miler. I focused on sleep and recovery because there wasn’t much running I needed to do. I just kept walking, as most do after a 100-mile race, to keep the blood flowing through my legs to speed up recovery. “Motion is lotion,” as the saying goes.

This wasn’t an “A” race for the season; the Rabid Raccoon was, so this marathon was more of a fun afterthought. However, I didn’t want to skip it—I had so much fun last year, and I love racing in the Wissahickon. For those who don’t know, I have been coming here since I was a little kid. I’ve explored every part of the park, documented it, and filmed it—you name it. There’s almost nothing in the entire 50 miles of the park that I haven’t seen. With that said, this is relevant to the topic of this post and race report. Life is not fair, and neither is racing. You will race against people who have trained in this park, running on these trails. That is so critical for performance that I’ve learned your training has almost identically to mirror the race you are preparing for.

I will not waste food! Getting some dirt off my orange slice.

If this was your first time racing the Philly Trail Marathon, you now have your benchmark. You must manage your expectations at all times in racing, and it’s only once you have completed a distance that you can gauge where you might perform come race day. There are other factors that can affect race day performance, such as sickness or injury. There’s only so much you can control! That part is crucial for truly successful racing. You are constantly managing the variables you CAN control. Don’t waste a single thought on the competitor next to you, the weather, or the aid station food they may or may not have. Great race execution comes from controlling what you can in the lead-up to and on race day.

My format for most of my race reports is the same: I write out three things—what went right, what went wrong, and what I would do differently. Why? It’s a brief recap for myself for the NEXT time, for the future version of me when he faces a similar race or course. History tends to repeat itself, so if you are not learning from your mistakes, you will make little to no progress in this sport. If it’s just about being out there, which is a lot of what my true intention is, then this might not matter to you. However, if you are getting frustrated with your performance, then start doing an audit of each race or benchmark performance, which you can do yourself, and see where there can be improvements.

What went right?

A lightweight kit, one water bottle, and minimal food. I had two packs of shot blocks, two RX bars, and tailwind packs to refill my bottle. The food was perfect. I saw the predicted weather and I knew this was going to be a fast race, only slightly sloppy in some sections, but a non-issue. The Wissahickon doesn’t hold water on the single tracks, just on Forbidden Drive. Had there been hot weather, I would have changed my strategy for hydration, but I ended up using one bottle and skipping some aid stations. This worked very well. I could tell I wasn’t sweating, and I was making sure to keep eating about 300 calories after the first hour.

I caught this dude sleeping at an aid station. Always grab and GO!

My mindset going into this was that I was racing MYSELF, nobody else. I didn’t care how I did in this race. I had originally thought about not bringing my hat camera since the video I got last year was decent. I was GLAD I did. Either I have gotten better at editing video, or just the clips came together well because I feel like I made a better video than the year before.

What went wrong?

I set a Pace Pro strategy on my Garmin watch for 9:20, which was a stretch as I knew I was still not fully recovered from the 100-mile race. This should have been more realistic and maybe a little bit slower. Part of me thought I should just take a shot at it since there wasn’t much to lose. I got a little lazy with putting Tailwind in my refills and just used water after the first bottle. There was one slip-up I made with pace. When I finished the first lap, I was so excited and started pushing too hard of a pace. That was a bad decision as it just intensified the effects on my already tired legs. I should have monitored the pace better and dialed it back some. I shouldn’t have had a 7:37 pace on mile 14. What happens is when you tax the system like that, it puts stress on your legs on the downhills. Huge mistake, that did nothing but wreck my legs and give them a really heavy feeling as the miles proceeded. You have to slow down for downhills; there’s no benefit in blasting down them with the amount of damage it does to your legs. Next time I will exercise more restraint.

Stephen cut down the tree the night before to add an obstacle

What I would do differently?

There wasn’t much that went wrong with this race. I was very dialed in for the first lap but got too excited on the second. I need to be patient, and I have had that same thing happen in 100 milers too. You start feeling good so you push, but that’s exactly the time you should be holding back. If you feel good in a marathon, it WILL pass.

So, I kept running my race. I didn’t care who passed me, or what else happened out there. I was just racing myself. Now, I didn’t beat my previous time, but I know that every day you line up at the starting line, the variables change. Conditions are never 100% the same; you get what the day gives you, you control what you can, and you have fun. My ability to stay happy increases my performance more than anything else. Laughing, smiling, and knowing there are just a handful of these experiences in life keep me pushing hard in most races because they are a rare opportunity at this stage in my life.

Getting a hug from my family at the finish line.

On a side note, it was pretty funny how many people saw last year’s video on YouTube and mentioned something. I was glad that it was helpful to some, and several people said they used my GPX file from the site to train on the course. That is why I am doing all of this—to help others achieve their running dreams and goals. 

The last piece of advice I’ll leave you with for training is this: My favorite new quote is, “Easy for those who work hard, hard for those who work easy.” If you found this race difficult, chances are it was either your first time, or you didn’t train on enough hills. It would be best if you replicated the vertical gain per mile in your training runs. For instance, this run has an average of 3,300 feet of elevation gain over 26 miles, which is about 127 feet per mile. So if your training runs don’t average that leading up to the Philadelphia Trail Marathon, you’ll likely have a tough day. It’s the best advice I can offer for those who want to perform well in this race.

Let me know in the comments below how your Philadelphia Trail Marathon went. What would you have done differently if you had the chance? Thanks for reading, and thanks to all those who help make this race possible.

I stayed up too late editing this on Sunday night, but I wanted to get it out into the world.